Riya Prem Raaj, a first generation lawyer, is an alumnus of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. In this interview she talked to us about her experiences at RGNUL, Internships, getting placed and working at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Much More
Which factors do you believe shaped your decision to pursue law?
As cliché as it sounds, I wanted to help people as a lawyer. To be there for families, to help them heal. To do good within the society. I was a part of a Centre at my college called Centre for Social Action that worked for the underprivileged sections of society. We had camps to visit the rural areas and learn about the poverty that the masses lived in. That time with the society was when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer.
Currently I agree that I am working at a law firm and cannot devote much time to my original idea of working for the underprivileged, but eventually I will be able to stand on my feet and do something as a litigation/independent lawyer.
How was your overall experience at RGNUL?
RGNUL was a five year rollercoaster ride that I enjoyed. I liked organizing conferences, debates, MUNs etc. I liked participating in those events too, both intra and inter college. I was the literary debating convener in my final year and that was the best year of my college life. I used to participate in moots as well. I am an adjudicator (a judge for a debate) and have participated in many such events all over and broken in (qualified) in the last few debates that I had participated in. Fests were a part of college life and our biggest achievement was hosting a TEDxRGNUL in 2015 which turned out to be a huge success and has had a second run by the juniors in 2016.
Could you tell about your internship experiences? What sort of internship did you prefer and what learning experiences did you gain from it? You opted mainly for corporate internships?
Yes, mostly corporate but I have done my fair share of litigation firms. I have not interned under a lawyer ever. I have done a Supreme Court clerkship as well. Litigation firms were mostly Bangalore so I learnt quite a bit about our courts and the way of things. My most helpful corporate Internship was in Mumbai at Bharucha & Partners where I learnt Due Diligence that really helped me later. Internships have something to gain from them, you just need to go the extra mile to learn sometimes. Most of my internships as well my first job was in Bangalore. I concentrated here because I knew I wanted to settle in my hometown.
Any remarkable experiences during your internships that shaped your career?
Bharucha, I have a lot to thank for. That was what trained me to actually put in those extra hours that actually got me my first job as well. I was used to the long hours after Bharucha. Cyril Amarchand wanted that commitment as well which I had steeled myself to put in during my 6 weeks internship at Bharucha. Bharucha & Partners, being a spin off of Amarchand ironically, prepared me for my job at Amarchand.
When did you decide to create for yourself a career in Corporate Law?
It was in my 4th year that I consciously decided to pursue Business laws. Corporate law was the natural outcome of taking business laws. Litigation was always a plan but after I could stand on my feet after a few years of corporate.
What were your areas of interest during your graduation? How did you go about developing expertise and knowledge in these areas?
I was always interested in IPR, I pursued IPR internships to further that goal. That applies to everyone, you like Tax, pursue those internships. But in general, I wanted a job at a firm after my five years and all my internships just served that aim. Papers are another source of gaining knowledge in areas. Intrinsic research into areas you are interested in can be better mapped out using a paper.
What are your thoughts on activities like mooting and debating? What skills do law students acquire by engaging themselves in such activities and their value on resume?
It is hard to just study at a law school because at the end of the day, the sheer number of activities will make you want to participate. I think it is healthy for every student to participate in moots or debates as per his passion, or both, or MUNs. They help you grow as a person, you learn how well you perform under pressure, how you work as a team member. Plus you get to represent your college which is an honour in itself.
Your CV needs to be holistic. Very few places will take you for just your grades. Most of them want a holistically well rounded student who has the skills necessary to take on sudden situations, the mannerisms that he may put to use in front of his boss (learnt from moot etiquettes). Debates just help you have fun, be spontaneous and best of all, the tournaments are a blast.
How did you get placed at Amarchand Mangaldas? Your role and experiences there.
I was campus placed at Amarchand Mangaldas. The firm had come looking for candidates for its new wing and out of 12 candidates, 5 of us were selected placed at Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
I was involved with the Finance team and learnt a lot from the team, not only research and drafting but also time management and work ethics. Amarchand prides itself on perfection and we strive to follow that motto.
How much grades matter in securing a job at top law firms? Please tell us other activities which helps in getting a job.
Internships are your leeway to a job. The better internships you have, the better your CV will look. To put it simply, if you want to get into IPR as a career, if you have Anand and Anand, Singhania and Co., etc., on your CV, you have a much better chance of getting in than someone who does not. But, grades do play an important role in such scenarios. An average student with an internship at Anand and Anand will have a better chance than a low grades student with an internship at Anand and Anand.
Top law firms do go by grades. JSA generally looks at internships done previously at JSA as a huge factor along with grades. So keep your grades as a necessary factor along with internships as the second when applying for a job. Third would be your extra-curricular activities.
Would you like to comment on the quality of academics at RGNUL during your tenure? Did the university provide you sufficient time to indulge in other socio-political activities?
Yes, RGNUL has been a wonderful alma matter to me. I got time to pursue a number of activities along with my academics and I was happier because of that. I was given freedom to organize events, to take charge, to express my ideas with the help of the literary debating committee teachers. The VC was encouraging with all participation and events that we wished to host and college was a much better place thanks to those little events we could organize and get people to participate in. Teachers encouraged you to go out and participate in paper presentations or MUNs or moots & debates. Quality of academics was decent with a well endowed library to support all research and prepare better projects.
Did you find that your law school education had prepared you sufficiently for the many tasks you were required to execute during your internships and later at your job?
Research is a primary factor for any internship or job. You will be asked to read up on cases, research into precedents, draft an outline of an argument etc. All the moot preparation does come in handy at this time along with the various search engines we employed for our use in college such as Manupatra, Lexis Nexis, Westlaw, India Kanoon etc.
Long hours spent on moot research and drafting and the long nights have helped stay awake at the office on many a day.
What are the pros and cons of taking corporate law as career?
In corporate law, one must realize, its mostly dry work. Unlike Litigation where it’s a new case, new facts and new research to be done everytime. Corporate law is more stringent with less scope of being flamboyant. There is a particular format which one has to follow and complete the task. Not more not less. Ofcourse, you have moments when the case asks for variation, but that is mostly again dry research into companies act, income tax act etc. (all this is on a personal note that I find them dry subjects).
You need to bid goodbye to sleep for a long time when you pursue corporate, be prepared to be woken up and given work, and stay back late at the office. The perks are the salary is lucrative, you can learn so much and rise up a corporate ladder quicker than a litigation ladder.
What advice would you give to students who are trying to decide which area of law to specialize in?
Pursue what you think you can survive looking at for the next 5-6 years. If you cannot stand the sight of tax, do not take that up. As silly as it may sound, do not pursue something for the money, you will have money but at the cost of mental peace and professional frustration. If you think Real estate is your calling, pursue that, do not change it because of peer pressure or because your family says so. Ultimately you have to survive in that field so at least pick something that you like.
If you do not know what you like, try experimenting with different teams during internships (JSA Amarchand etc. have team rotations for interns and I’m guessing other places will not be against it too). Even when you start a job, you might be rotated to different teams to see what where you are the best fit.
Corporate jobs are very fast and bright while they last. It is no secret that most people burn out or get bored due to the monotonous nature of the job and leave for the greener litigation pastures.
What would be your parting message to law students who want pursue career in litigation?
Please do not think if you are a good orator or a mooter, you will be good at litigation. They are completely different. Pursue it only when you know you can be there in the long haul and dedicate yourself to thankless nights of research where the judge may dismiss the case for no apparent reason or be on leave despite you staying up the whole night preparing.
It is a job where you rise on your merits (or if you have influence). But the rise is slow and gradual with a lot of barriers in the form of people and judges. Steel yourself for a long journey but a journey that will enrich you as not only a lawyer but as a person as well.
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